Food and “family”

Grainews

April 2021.

Like most of us, Dave and I have been binge-watching movies. High among my all-time favourites is The Godfather I, II and III. I particularly admire the attention that director Francis Ford Coppola pays to food, making it integral to many pivotal “family” scenes.

We enter the tragedy at Connie Corleone’s wedding, rich with lasagna, big platters of antipasti, a wedding cake as big as a church, and tumblers full of red wine, although Mafia foot soldier “Fat” Clemenza guzzles wine from a jug. In a later scene after an outburst of violence among the city’s gangster clans, Clemenza teaches Michael Corleone, Connie’s youngest brother, played by Al Pacino, how to cook a good sausage and meatball ragù because you never know when “you might have to cook for twenty guys.” Later, Clemenza reminds an associate about life’s priorities after executing a traitorous colleague: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Oranges serve as a metaphor for death. Patriarch Vito Corleone, played by a puffy-cheeked and mumbling Marlon Brando who steals every scene he’s in, clutches a fruit vendor’s bag of oranges when he is gunned down. Soon after, Vito’s short-tempered eldest son, Santino, played by James Caan, says to his brutal brother-in-law, Carlo, at a family meal, “We don’t discuss business at the table.” Then in an Italian restaurant where Michael is planning to shoot a crooked cop and the gangster kingpin who ordered the hit on his father, the cop is eating veal and the gangster is drinking wine, but Michael is visibly reluctant to break bread with men he hates and plans to kill. Oranges reappear when Vito is playing in the garden with his grandson. Vito quarters an orange, puts the peel in his mouth and pulls a face at the little boy, who screams in fear. Vito suffers a fatal heart attack moments later.

In The Godfather II, young Vito Corleone, played at a whisper by a gorgeous Robert de Niro oh my, loses his job to nepotism when the local don brings his do-nothing nephew to the grocery story where Vito works. Vito turns down his boss’s guilt-laden offer of a box of groceries, and brings his wife one perfect pear that he centres on his family’s modest dinner table.

In The Godfather III, Michael’s nephew, Vincent, makes gnocchi with his cousin, Mary, Michael’s daughter, breaking incest taboos even as he does a credible job of shaping the gnocchi. And Michael’s most memorable line –  “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” – is delivered at a kitchen counter crowded with food and wine, his sister Connie and nephew Vincent listening as thunder and lightning emphasize the point. Cannoli makes a return too, when Connie murders her scheming godfather, Don Altobello, with a gift of poisoned cannoli, which he eats during the opera in which Michael’s son Anthony makes his debut.

Food, food, food. Popcorn won’t cut it – I can’t resist eating pasta whenever I immerse myself in The Godfather, and carbonara is one of my favourites. So put the movie on pause. Like Coppola, first we eat – with the family.

Linguini Carbonara

With so few ingredients, quality makes all the difference. Use really fine bacon or pancetta, and buy a wedge of Parmesan reggiano – or grana padano, less costly and just as delicious. Some cooks add softly scrambled egg – suit yourself.

Serves 3-4

1 lb. dried linguini (or 2 lb. fresh)

8 slices good bacon, cubed

olive oil for the pan

6-8 large cloves garlic, minced

½ onion

½ tsp. dried thyme or basil

½ cup white wine

2 cups peas

1 cup whipping cream

lemon juice to taste

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for the pasta

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, with extra for garnish

minced parsley or chives for garnish

If using dried pasta, start the pot of water boiling and get the pasta cooking. If using fresh, get the water boiling, salt it and keep it hot.

Sauté the bacon in a sauté pan, then add oil if needed and fry the garlic until golden Add the onions and cook until tender, slowing the heat and covering with a lid to keep the onions from browning. Add the thyme or basil and wine, reduce by half and add the peas and whipping cream. Add a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Cook the fresh pasta now if that’s what you are using.

Drain the cooked pasta. Toss with a bit of olive oil and a couple spoonfuls of parmesan. Add the rest of the cheese to the sauce and stir in, then serve the pasta and sauce. Garnish with parsley or chives and extra Parmesan.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction [CNF], Culinary

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